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Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2008 01:39 am

Exercise in futility

Madigan opposes governor’s revised capital plan

Gov. Rod Blagojevich is contemplating yet another special legislative session to take up a newly revised $25 billion infrastructure-repair proposal for transportation, schools, and economic development.

Whatever happens, it certainly appears that any special session would be an exercise in futility. House Speaker Michael Madigan is not budging from his opposition to the governor's capital construction plan, even in its newly revised and scaled-back form.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, who attended last week's legislative leaders meeting on Madigan's behalf, dumped all over the proposal's remaining funding stream: leasing the Illinois Lottery to a private company. She wasn't impressed with the fact that the governor had taken gaming expansion off the table as a funding mechanism, and she said Blagojevich ought to sign the "pay to play" bill to ban contractor contributions before anyone should even consider talking about a capital bill that will award tens of billions of dollars to many of those same contractors.

The governor, for his part, kept up his public attacks on Madigan for refusing to cooperate. After the leaders' meeting, the governor's staff leaked a harsh letter that Madigan allegedly sent to a Teamsters official: "I regret that you bought into the bullshit of the Blagojevich people."

Another banner day in Illinois government.

The only conceivable reason for bringing legislators back to town would be to continue the Madigan-bashing festivities, because it doesn't look like he's ready to cave any time soon.

Lots of people wonder why Madigan is refusing to cooperate on a concept that just about everyone agrees is vital to the state's interests. They also wonder when, or even whether, he'll get off the dime and advance a proposal of his own.

I've pointed this out before, but it's worth repeating. Last year, Madigan slow-walked several big legislative proposals, refusing to close any deal until it was done his way, on his timeline, and was completely unconnected to other issues.

The mass-transit bailout is a case in point.

Madigan stubbornly pushed the bailout plan, which was hammered out by the Chicago-area transit systems and their unions, when others wanted big changes. He refused demands to connect it to the governor's health-care dreams or the capital bill and whatever else was brought up. The speaker persevered through a couple of dramatic "doomsday" shutdown deadlines and waited until the last possible moment before finally advancing his proposal. The governor used his amendatory veto powers on the bill to allow seniors to ride free, but other than that Madigan got his way.

Expect the same on the capital projects bill. When Madigan decides it's time, he'll do something. The trouble is, nobody knows when he'll make that decision.

Meanwhile, Madigan is way out on a limb with this thing. He's more isolated now than he's been on any issue in his entire career. All the other legislative leaders, most of his political allies, and quite a few of his members oppose his current posture.

Yet nothing seems to move Madigan. The governor's evisceration of his daughter Lisa's attorney general budget provoked nary a peep. Traditional allies are pushed aside, the dire needs of a state slipping into recession are downplayed, editorials are ripped up, critics are scorned, and the end result is always the same: no movement.

Madigan has his reasons for refusing to work with Blagojevich and Senate President Emil Jones. Many, many, many of them are sound. He's been burned repeatedly by both men, and he simply doesn't trust their word on anything.

"I got taken to school last year," Madigan told Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson about last year's disastrous, record-breaking overtime session, "so I figured while I was at school I might as well learn something."

That "something" appears to be a refusal to cooperate until he's ready to push his own plan.
Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.

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